The intrinsic temporal properties of alpha and beta retinal ganglion cells are equivalent

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Current Biology








Background: Mammalian retinal ganglion cells have been traditionally classified on the basis of morphological and functional criteria, but as yet little is known about the intrinsic membrane properties of these neurons. This study has investigated these properties by making patch-clamp recordings from morphologically identified ganglion cells in the intact retina. Results: The whole-cell configuration of the patch-clamp technique was used to assess the temporal tuning characteristics of alpha and beta cells, the two most extensively studied ganglion cell classes. Fourier analysis was used to examine discharge patterns in response to sinusoidal currents of different frequencies (1-50 Hz). With few exceptions, neurons responded in a stereotypic fashion to changes in temporal modulation, with their output initially increasing and then decreasing as a function of stimulus frequency. Moreover, peak responses in both cell classes were obtained at equivalent temporal frequencies. At high stimulus rates, response probability decreased, but the spikes remained phase-locked to the stimulus cycle, thereby enabling populations of cells to convey temporal information. A small number of ganglion cells did not show an appreciable decrease in output as a function of stimulus frequency, but these cells were not confined to either ganglion cell class. Conclusions: These findings provide the first evidence that the intrinsic temporal properties of alpha and beta cells are alike. Furthermore, the responses obtained to direct current injections were strikingly similar to those described previously with temporally modulated visual stimuli, suggesting that intrinsic membrane properties may shape the visual responses of alpha and beta cells to a larger degree than has been commonly assumed.

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